It’s always exciting as a hardened sports fan going to any Laureus event because of the opportunity to meet and talk to sporting legends that attend and support the Laureus cause.
he World Sports Awards were being held in Monaco for the second year running and the reception arriving into Nice airport was literally the coldest ever. A snow blizzard welcomed us and slowed the traffic on the winding roads down to a snails pace. The driver told us it was the first time since 1984 that Monaco had seen snow.
The next morning we set up a studio space in a salon in the Hermitage Hotel, the hub for the Laureus Foundation’s operation during its mini invasion of the principality. There were Laureus members attending this year whose portrait, interview and signature were needed for the forthcoming Laureus Opus, so we were very keen to see who was around and whose flights had been cancelled. As a tennis fan having time with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Boris Becker was always going to be special … new Laureus members Ryan Giggs and Francesco Totti, double award nominee Roger Federer and many other icons from a variety of sports would also be around during the next two days.
Moments later we were graced with the presence of tennis royalty when Martina Navratilova visited our set. She was in fine spirits despite having landed just a few hours prior and happy to share memories of her career with us. The ‘game face’, look of steel I requested from her for her portrait came so naturally that you could almost see the competitive spirit still running through her veins.
It wasn’t long before two footballing legends arrived at our studio – Alessandro Del Piero and new Laureus member, Ryan Giggs. The two icons embraced each other and caught up on news as Ryan Giggs had only recently been named manager of Wales. I captured Ryan’s portrait and took the opportunity to photograph the two stars together. Staying back to be interviewed, Ryan Giggs shared some very honest thoughts with us, reflecting on his career and the personal challenges he faced when his parents split up. It made him focus and channel his energies into his football. It’s these insightful stories that will hopefully resonate with children all over the world who view the Laureus Opus and share similar personal issues. Seeing a positive outcome in life can sometimes make all the difference.
The day was passing us by quickly and I had already had the opportunity to introduce myself to Monica Seles who kept passing our studio as she went back and forth from her room to the Laureus reception point. She was on a hunt for a dress for the awards ceremony and luckily for her Monaco had plenty to offer. Walking by in her own world, head in a tune, looking at her phone was tomorrow nights entertainment, Emeli Sandé. I approached to see if she had any free time. She came straight away to see what we were doing and was happy to pose for me. It was so refreshing to photograph a high profile musician who wasn’t worried about hair and make-up.
Despite being scheduled to be with us the following day, Monica Seles asked if she could pose for her portrait there and then as her day was free and the next day seemed hectic (still no dress for the ceremony). I naturally obliged. Her portrait was very graceful and again the stare she gave me was just the look I was after, one of a champion.
The days shoot was over and it was going to be a quick shower and change before heading for the reception at the Monaco Yacht Club. An impressive structure which i had passed many times before, but never ventured in. we thought we had arrived early but the venue was already full and buzzing. There were no formalities this evening, just the chance to mingle and chat.
For me, there was extra excitement as the entire length of the club was lined in the portraits I had taken of the Laureus members. It was the first time I had seen the photographs exhibited in this way and I felt very proud. Some members were signing their portraits on the night and I was especially pleased to be photographed with the ‘Ice Queen’, Katarina Witt, in front of her portrait. I gave a five-minute interview to the TV channel covering the night and loved hearing the comments about the portraits from those attending the event.
The next day (the day of the Awards Ceremony itself) was going to be a shorter day in terms of shooting time. More guests were arriving and familiar faces were turning up to see us. One unfamiliar face from what I remembered as a child growing up was that of swimming great, Mark Spitz. The famous ‘Magnum style’ moustache was long gone, and a silver-haired, charismatic, fellow photographer was here to be photographed and interviewed. Mr Spitz was entertaining, full of stories and a straight talker. His portrait was stunning and captured his aura.
We waited outside in the foyer hoping that Boris Becker might find time in his schedule to visit us. As we loitered Monica Seles walked in our direction. Before we could ask, she shook her head… ‘Still no dress’.
It was great to meet one of my all-time heroes, Luis Figo once again. He came in as did many others that morning to say hello and to make sure, in a teasing way, that fellow member, Marcel Desailly, signed all the signature sheets.
Marcel sighed, “They’re too many Figo”.
Figo laughed, “Set an example Marcel, you’re a senior member”.
Whilst he was with us Figo took a photo of his portrait on his phone. It made me feel good and I told him I would email the smiling colour portrait too which all the women love. Wherever I am, in the corridor, sat in reception, if Figo sees me he’ll always ask if I’m alright, tap my shoulder and make me fell good about myself…. A born leader.
Before we wrapped up for the day the ever elusive Mr Becker came by to sign the Laureus Opus signature sheets and be interviewed. It was a very interesting interview where he explained the deal he made with his parents. He was giving sport a two year window to prove itself a wise career choice, if not it would mean conforming to a more traditional path in life. Luckily for him he burst onto the tennis scene at the age of 17 and became the youngest man to ever lift the Wimbledon trophy.
It was time to wrap up the shoot for another year and get ready for the awards ceremony. Dinner suits and running shoes are the order for the red carpet and it makes for a very comfortable evening. The event was in full swing when we arrived and there was much excitement in the star studded auditorium. Roger Federer entered almost getting a standing ovation but that was rightly held back for HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco. Our host for the evening was Benedict Cumberbatch and very soon the awards were being handed out. The high profile awards went to Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team for Team of the Year, Serena Williams for Sportswoman of the Year and Roger Federer winning both Sportsman of the Year and Comeback of the Year. After the ceremony concluded the food was served and wine flowed. Before the night was out we were able to steal two minutes to re-introduce ourselves to Roger Federer whom we last met and photographed on the giant Polaroid 20×24 camera in 2006, just 15 minutes after beating Rafal Nadal and securing his fourth Wimbledon title.
The high profile awards went to Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team for Team of the Year, Serena Williams for Sportswoman of the Year and Roger Federer winning both Sportsman of the Year and Comeback of the Year. After the ceremony concluded the food was served and wine flowed. Before the night was out we were able to steal two minutes to re-introduce ourselves to Roger Federer whom we last met and photographed on the giant Polaroid 20×24 camera in 2006, just 15 minutes after beating Rafal Nadal and securing his fourth Wimbledon title.
Remarkably, Roger remembered that experience vividly and said he was talking about it only the week before. We said that we would create a set of Polaroids for him … and yes, they’re already in the post.
The party continued downstairs in a club where we graced the dance floor with our 80’s moves. With a car booked at 5 am to take us to Nice airport we had two choices, stay out all night and dance the night away or head for the hotel and a hot chocolate!